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Engineering solutions in healthcare delivery

The panel discussion “Promoting Innovation” featured (l-r) Timothy Ward, deputy director for program analysis and evaluation with the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery; Martin Ciccocioppo, vice president of the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania; Brian Lobley, vice president for strategy and innovation with Independence Blue Cross; and Robert Richardson, director of the Bureau of Health Planning with the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Solving one of America’s most challenging problems—a healthcare system that consumes one-sixth of the economy—will require a multifaceted solution, experts said at a recent conference here.

The Integrated Healthcare Delivery Workshop, which drew 100 people, featured panel discussions on “Promoting Innovation” and “Provider Perspectives” and addresses by experts in systems engineering, economics, health insurance, public policy and other fields.

The event was sponsored by Lehigh, the provost’s office, the College of Business and Economics, and the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science. It was organized by faculty in four departments—computer science and engineering, economics, industrial and systems engineering, and management.

James Benneyan, director of the Healthcare Systems Engineering Program at Northeastern University, said America’s healthcare industry is plagued with inefficiencies, errors, unequal access, variabilities in practice and patient safety issues.

In addition, he said, the national cost of healthcare, estimated at about $2.7 trillion a year, is increasing twice as fast as inflation.

Systems engineers can improve healthcare, said Benneyan, as they have streamlined the airlines and other industries, by using mathematical, simulation, cognitive and operations models to optimize the processes that make up healthcare delivery.

“There are a huge number of opportunities to build a better healthcare system with systems engineering,” said Benneyan. “We need more emphasis on the training of undergraduate and master’s-level students in programs that expose them to real-life practice.”

Lehigh’s engineering college recently created a professional master’s of engineering program in healthcare systems engineering (HSE). Housed in the department of industrial and systems engineering, HSE will graduate its first class this summer. Its advisory board includes representatives from the Mayo Clinic, hospital networks and home healthcare companies, as well as the insurance, pharmaceutical and consulting industries.

A role for social media

Gordon Gao, co-director of the Center for Health Information and Decision Systems at the University of Maryland, told the workshop audience that social media networks like Facebook and Twitter can change the nation’s healthcare landscape.

One-third of Medicare payments go to patients with diabetes, said Gao. This cost could be significantly reduced if patients exercised and followed healthier diets. Motivating them to do so has been difficult, but research suggests that people are more likely to change their habits if they have more contact with each other and with healthcare providers.

Gao’s talk was titled “Health 2.0 and Empowered Patients.” Benneyan’s was titled “Healthcare Systems Engineering: If We Are So Good At It Why Are Things Still So Bad.”

The panel discussion “Provider Perspectives” was moderated by Tom Cassidy ’87, area director for operational quality assurance for BAYADA Home Healthcare, and featured officials from St. Luke’s University Health Network, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Lehigh Valley Health Network and the Mayo Clinic’s Systems and Procedures Division.

“Promoting Innovation” was moderated by Chad Meyerhoefer, associate professor of economics at Lehigh, and featured officials from the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, Independence Blue Cross, the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

University Provost Patrick V. Farrell opened the event. Tamas Terlaky, the George N. and Soteria Kledaras ’87 Endowed Chair Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering, gave closing remarks.


Photo by Christa Neu

Story by Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Monday, May 21, 2012

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